MetroPCS goes live in 15 new cities; gets within spitting distance of selling its last CDMA phone

MetroPCS officially launched its prepaid service in 15 new cities today, expanding its footprint to cover 45 markets. But behind the scenes the carrier is also getting close to another milestone. It’s almost at the point where it can stop selling CDMA phones entirely and focus entirely on becoming a GSM carrier.

According to MetroPCS COO Tom Keys, 98 percent of all its dealers and stores are now exclusively selling GSM/HSPA and LTE devices that work on the network of Metro’s new parent company T-Mobile US(s tmus). The remaining 2 percent are in locations where T-Mobile’s network doesn’t completely overlap with Metro’s old CDMA footprint, Keys said. But once T-Mobile brings networks online in those areas, Metro will become entirely a GSM shop.

MetroPCS will still have to support existing customers with CDMA phones – T-Mobile won’t sunset the network completely until 2015 – but it’s already well on its way to converting its customer base to the new technology. MetroPCS sold its first GSM phone on June 12, but in the intervening six months 1.5 million, or 17 percent, of its 9 million customers have gravitated toward GSM devices.

The carrier has been helped out a lot by its expansion. Beyond its original 15-city footprint, Metro is relying solely on T-Mobile’s networks so any new customer in one of its new cities automatically joins its GSM ranks. MetroPCS has also benefited from GSM’s flexibility, allowing customers with old AT&T(s t) and T-Mobile phones or otherwise unlocked devices to sign up for Metro service without buying a handset.

That bring-your-own-device offering has helped it establish in new cities, where Metro is finding a lot of pent-up demand from consumers to use their old phones, Keys said.

The 15 new cities going live today are Albuquerque/Santa Fe, N.M.; Cincinnati/Dayton and Columbus, Ohio; Denver/Colorado Springs, Col.; El Paso, Texas/Las Cruces, NM; Fayetteville, Ark.; Indianapolis and South Bend/Fort Wayne, Ind.; Louisville, Ken; Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oka.; Phoenix and Tuscon, Ariz.; Pittsburgh; and Portland, Ore.

MetroPCS is selling devices and service plans in those markets on its website and through a handful of distributors, but by the end of December, the carrier should have about 300 wireless dealers authorized to activate devices as well as distribution through Best Buy(s bby) and Walmart(s wmt), Keys said.